When retired professional skateboarder and father of two Scott Bourne ran out of imaginative yet challenging books to read to his kids, he created his own. Inspired by instrumental tales from his own childhood by the likes of Dr Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and Crockett Johnson – authors who addressed societal issues through worlds of whimsy – he created his first children’s book, An Act of Imagination. In need of illustrations to bring his stories to life, Bourne recruited legendary skate artist and friend Tod Bratrud, who, as creative director at Consolidated Skateboards in the late 90s, designed many of Bourne’s most memorable graphics.
An Act of Imagination is a collection of poems that tap into the wonders of childhood, taking everyday events and characters and infusing them with imaginative invention and contemporary moral questions. There’s the bookworm left homeless by digital books, the Zombies riding buses (highlighting modern-day phone addiction) and the Dontknowsians, a race who destroyed their planet and now warn others of this fate.
Evan Goodfellow: What inspired this new book?
Scott Bourne: A lot of things, but mostly being a parent and just watching my children do fun, silly things, or not do such fun and silly things, as well as watching other parents and how they interact with their children.
EG: How long did you work on the project?
SC: About two years, but the initial poems were written in only a few months.
EG: How did the collaboration work with Todd being in the US and you in Paris?
SB: It was quite easy. Todd is about the easiest person I have ever worked with. I sent him the poems by post just to see if they interested him and he liked the material, so I wrote out some basic art direction for each illustration, and posted that. Then, in a matter of weeks, he started sending me sketches via email, I gave suggestions…. and boom. A book was born!
“You see these three guys [Dr Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Crockett Johnson] in our book, all standing around an oil barrel warming their hands over a fire.”
EG: I love the illustrations, I’m curious what references you had in your head before Todd started creating them?
SB: Honestly the entire book draws from the Shel Silverstein cannon. Those books really affected me as a kid. We’d read through all of them with our children and there weren’t anymore, that’s when I realised no one was really writing short silly poems for kids anymore. Stuff with morals, as well as complete nonsense. So, I decided to give it a shot.
In the process, I decided to approach some more current world issues that didn’t exist in Shel’s day. In doing so, I realised that there’s this elephant in the room a lot of parents don’t want to acknowledge – so, I kinda set out to expose it.
EG: Can you tell us more about Todd’s process in all of this?
SB: We are all pretty familiar with Todd’s laser-sharp style, but what I knew from working with him is his knack with a sharpie, how he is always just doing these silly doodles with a black permanent marker all over stuff – desk, bathroom wall, notebooks, etc. Having seen this, I really thought it would be perfect for what I wanted to do. These are all hand drawn on craft paper, then scanned. And to tell the truth, he nailed it. I mean they are simple line drawings and at the same time, they really embody something magical.
EG: What books do you remember reading growing up?
SB: Dr Seuss was enormous in our home, and he approached everything from the environment to nuclear annihilation. Big stuff for kids. Shel Silverstein of course, The Giving Tree is a heartbreaker. Try reading that to a child without facing some big questions. Then there was Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon which is a masterpiece! You see these three guys in our book, all standing around an oil barrel warming their hands over a fire. This was totally Todd’s idea and an amazing one at that, for me, the book is a sort of ode to these three men.
EG: Other than the books you read as a child has it been easy to find new books to read your children?
SB: It’s a little frustrating as a parent, there just isn’t much good content that I really feel like putting under their noses. I will say that The Gruffalo series is pretty wonderful. We also have a book called One, Two, Three, Me, by Nadia Budde and Jeremy Fitzkee, that is fantastic. There is some real poetry in the writing, simple, cleaver and certainly a learning tool for young folks. And the illustrations are really cool – simple, clean, with spot colour. A fantastic book for the little ones.
EG: What was your children’s response when they saw the book?
SB: Well, in all honesty, I think they were more excited than I was. For a moment we didn’t think it was going to happen. We had some backers, then Covid-19 hit and everyone pulled out. The book was done but we didn’t have the money to go to print. So, the kids really went through months and months of looking at all of this stuff covering the walls of the room where I work, to nothing. I lost it, took everything down and felt really defeated. The funny thing is, by this time the kids knew so many of the poems by heart and they just wouldn’t let it go. It was quite touching. I have an eight-year-old son, and a four-year-old daughter that just kept inspiring me. When the book showed up, they went bonkers with love!
“I’ve heard it said that after every great rise in technology there comes a return to touch. I think that time has started to come.”
EG: Tell us about the inspiration behind the Zombies on the Bus poem?
SB: There ya go! That’s one of the elephants in the room and people are really reluctant to talk about the phone problem. The poem was inspired by one of my son’s friends, Victor. One day he and my son were playing this game called Zombie on the Bus. It’s pretty simple and goes like this. If you see a person speaking on the phone on the bus you call “zombie” for one point. If they have ear plugs in, you get two points. If they are not holding on to anything, and have the plugs, you get three points. If they are with a child, you get four points.
I took this and created a poem which I hope makes this situation approachable for parents and kids. But the idea that this is how a child might see his parents, or others around him is frightening. The interesting thing is that the highest points are awarded for a child being neglected. To a child this is grave. They’re seeing their people being neglected. By watching this simple game, we are allowed to see through the child’s eyes, and what we see is shocking.
EG: And can you talk about Bukowski the book worm?
SB: Another elephant. As you know from the book, I reference a lot of poets and literary figures. I wanted to create a bookworm that was homeless due to digital books and Bukowski was the natural choice. Bookworms live in dusty old books, not glossy new electronic tablets and phones. No book, no bookworms… simple. But beyond all of that, the poem brings up gentrification, which is a pretty heavy word for a children’s book, but also, a word I hear every day. So by bringing it up, I hope I create the opportunity for you to explain this word to your child.
Bookshops and libraries have been closing down all over the world at an alarming rate. Pushing bookstores and libraries out of our communities is a sort of gentrification. Again, I hope I make the subject approachable for both parents and children. I am pointing at the elephant. At the same time, we are approaching the idea of homelessness, which is also a subject most parents have to eventually explain.
EG: How do you stay positive as you see the things you are passionate about such as literature, and human connections shrinking due to technology?
SB: Now you’ve done it…. you’ve just pointed at an elephant [laughs]. That’s how I do it. I just bring it up and try to make it approachable. This is what parenting has done for me. It’s a gift and I’m trying to give it to others. Now it’s yours, take it where you will, pass it along. I’ve heard it said that after every great rise in technology there comes a return to touch. I think that time has started to come. People are tired of constantly being bombarded with media and advertising and no separation between life and work. Even leisure has started to disappear, and people are starting to realise how draining it is.
EG: You grew up on skateboards, how does that influence the way you parent?
SB: I am really big on live and learn. That’s skateboarding, you fall down more than you roll away, but once you learn it, it usually sticks. Experience! You’ll notice that a number of the poems in the book have this idea to them. I am more of a ‘show’ than ‘tell’ sort of father. I don’t like to answer questions, I like to ask more questions back. I like to see what they say. Sometimes I like their answers better than the ones I think I know, so I hang onto them, and turn them into poems.
Buy An Act of Imagination here.